Thursday, January 8

Multiculturalism verus nationalism

When I was working we decided to have an “International Luncheon” to celebrate our work place multi cultural heritage.

Although there were only about 40 employees in our specialist risk section, most participated by bringing a dish, prepared at home and representative of their traditional cuisine. We were treated to dishes from India, Sri Lanka, China, Malaysian, Vietnam, Cambodia, Fiji, Latvia, England, Poland, Ireland, Greece, Italy, Chile, Malta and the Philippines. We also had good old Aussie Pies, with each dish identified by its flag. It was a very long enjoyable luncheon that enhanced relationships. 

Sine we moved to Melbourne in 1983, we have largely found the city to be both welcoming and usually respectful of an individuals heritage. In fact the city is probably one of the most multi cultured in the world with citizens from 140 nations living in harmony together. This is the result of four main waves of migration, firstly the Europeans, then Chinese with the gold rush and more recently many from Vietnam, Cambodia, China, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, making up the largest source countries. But I do think there is a fundamental difference between Australia and say nations such as the USA, which to my mind engenders a culture of nationalism born from a deep sense of allegiance to one’s country. That's a feeling that's not so deeply rooted in Australian culture.

My question is “Is this realistic or appropriate for Australia ?” or are we better to follow the American model and embrace a common nationalistic purpose to represent all ethnic groups ?.

An extract of the opening gambit to our governmental policy , from the website is as follows: Australia is a culturally and linguistically diverse society and will remain so. Australia’s cultural diversity is a key part of our national identity. The government’s multicultural policy responds to this diversity, seeking to meet the challenges and maximise the benefits, for all Australians.

I would be interested to hear what people think? Can we have both ? Is there really a distinction?


Tom said...

My instinct tells me that if there is a difference between nationalism and multiculturalism then go for the latter. Of course there will be calls for checks, balances and other provisos, but nationalism has a tendency to breed an 'us versus them' attitude. That is divisive and leads to all kinds of tyranny. Multiculturalism is far more inclusive of all, but must be rooted in respect.

Beyond that I am unable to comment. The recent news here in France is too shocking.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Tom
A fine line I agree , but it seems that instinctive reaction sums up my feelings on the matter.
The shocking news in Paris casts such a pall of grief over all of us.
Best wishes

Halle said...

Canada has embraced multiculturalism, not without its critics. It seems to me that the important balance of this is to enshrine separation of church and state into the national conscience and law.
No system is perfect without the fragile goodwill between individuals.
Your dinner reminds me of one we had at a beautiful new school decades ago. Over eighty different nations and cultural identities were represented in food and costume. At that time the school was a model of international cooperation. Only ten years after that time news reports told of racial tension leading to murders in the streets in that same neighbourhood.

Somehow "we stand together and support and take pleasure in diversity" had been replaced.

susan said...

Born in England, moved to Canada at age six, two years in England and Europe, followed by more years in Canada, I moved to the US in my early thirties and spent nearly thirty-five years there before returning to Canada.

When I was growing up and before I left the feeling I had about Canada was that there was little social confusion. The country then was largely populated by former northern Europeans and still had a strong British influence. As more people arrived from other countries there was more interest in meeting others with different lifestyles than fear and mistrust. I think a major part of that was that nobody felt particularly threatened by newcomers and everyone knew there was a strong social safety net.

The US, on the other hand, was the last country in the world that had practiced slavery and there is still a powerful element of racism extant in large areas of the country. As each new ethnic group arrived in wave after wave of immigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries those people often found themselves at the bottom of the social and cultural ladders of acceptance. People who had established themselves for a couple of generations got to look askance at new arrivals who might take their jobs or move into the neighborhood bringing their foreign habits with them.

In my opinion, nationalism as practiced in the US is more a protective stance for the status quo rather than the great melting pot it's been advertised as being. Rather than agreeing that it's better to take care of everyone by having single payer health care and other elements of a strong social safety net, Americans always seem to resent the idea that the guy down the road or across the country may be getting a free ride that they are paying for. It's always puzzled me and an attitude I ran into very often.

Of course, this is a long and complex subject, one impossible to address properly in a few paragraphs, but overall I'd have to say the US is nominally nationalist because it is the focal point of its own empire. Multicultural countries like yours and mine are much more comfortable places to live.

Best wishes

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Halle
I guess Australia, like Canada, has its critics, but I can say here the separation of church and state is the norm so that at least we don’t have the spectacle of politicians claiming their orders come from the almighty!
Racial tension leading to murders in the streets is the ultimate in ugly savagery –what I presume is the result of an extreme example of tribalism. Best wishes

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan
Having experienced both systems first hand puts you into a good position to comment on this vexed question. I always got the impression the US was an amalgamation of what might loosely be described as the equivalent of many different countries, with states and regions exhibiting varying degrees of tolerance or intolerance.
But the US does seem to have a clear propensity to nationalism as you have described.
Safety nets I think do help cement human capital to engage in a supportive environment and underwrite an egalitarian society. We are in danger of losing that here in Australia if as we seek to curtail benefits.
Best wishes